Classroom playbook for constructive dialogue

(Image credit: Institute for Constructive Dialogue)

A political divide among Americans that became stark and often verbally abusive during the 2016 US presidential campaign has moved from social media to workplaces and even schools. Teachers had to make a concerted effort to teach students how “to disagree without being disagreeable”.

diane benson harrington
Harrington

A year ago, many teachers were cheering for the return to classrooms after the pandemic shutdowns, but the lonely time stripped many students of their social skills. Teachers have redoubled their efforts to foster civil conversation in the classroom.

Sixty percent of college students in one study said they would be reluctant to discuss controversial topics on campus, while legislatures in at least two dozen states have passed or introduced bills prohibit teachers from discussing “dividing” concepts in class.

Make room for constructive dialogue

In the midst of this, in 2017, social psychologist and New York University professor Jonathan Haidt and researcher and businesswoman Caroline Mehl created the Institute for Constructive Dialogue to address people’s inability to agree on facts, listen to others’ points of view, think critically and find compromises. Their psychology-based Perspectives program, designed for high school and college teachers to use with students, is free, and the organization has since expanded to work with businesses, nonprofits, governments local and religious groups. Today, the Constructive Dialogue Institute is releasing a Playbook that offers educators five strategies and corresponding resources to encourage more thoughtful dialogue.

“I think at the end of the day, meaningful dialogue is about creating space to connect with people,” CDI director of education Jake Fay told SmartBrief.

The Playbook helps teachers explain and reinforce key aspects of constructive dialogue:

  1. Give up victory.
  2. Share your story and invite others to do the same.
  3. Ask questions to understand.
  4. Acknowledge the emotions of others.
  5. Seek common ground when possible.

It explains how educators can create resilient classroom norms, model and practice asking questions, make thinking “visible” in the classroom, develop a culture where students can “talk about talking” and teach with stories. .

Support students through stimulating conversations

“The five tools in our playbook are really meant to be familiar yet different practices that educators can use in their classroom,” says Fay.

The Perspectives online program offers customizable teaching strategies; eight interactive online lessons; phrasebooks; classroom exercises; automated email reminders; and quizzes, says Fay. Educators can insert the lessons into existing curricula, whether in English, history or other courses.

“The classroom is a place where we have the chance to learn from those who are different from us, and yet it can feel difficult and challenging. So we need more support. We need more guidance We need to set expectations early in our classrooms on how to have these conversations,” Fay says.

Perspectives offers guidelines and boundaries and helps teachers build student skills and mindsets so that “students who may not have really known they could speak and interact with people who think very differently can have productive conversations and learning how others understand some of the major and difficult issues in the world and why those issues matter to them,” says Fay.

“When they do that, it opens up different possibilities for conversation.”

Participants report success

CDI’s recent randomized, controlled trial with 775 students from three colleges and universities shows the program’s success. Almost three-quarters of students showed a decrease in polarizationn, and more than half said they could better recognize the limits of their own knowledge, were less likely to negatively attack others, and were less likely to negatively evade others during conflict. In follow-up contact with more than 35,000 students up to six months after the program, 86% say they communicate better with people who have different points of view.

“Social media currently does not model civil and productive discourse for students. [Perspectives] provides them with the tools and resources they need to change the tone of dialogue,” a New York high school history teacher said in a release bulletin with CDI, adding that more students are now able to to have “meaningful conversations with those who hold different and contrasting points of view.

CDI research suggests that the program “is equally effective for learners of all political backgrounds and for other demographics like race and gender. We found similar effects in program outcomes for liberal, moderate, and conservative students,” says Fay.

A trickling effect

The program is different from those like popular positive behavioral interventions and supports, which focus on climate intervention in schools. “That’s not who we are. We’re not prescribing, like, here’s what you should do if a student says X or something. We basically create material that is useful for teachers to try to create cultures and climates in their classroom where students can talk across differences,” says Fay.

Students have told CDI that they often use the techniques outside of the classroom and even in their home lives, Fay says.

“The more we use tools like this, the more we pay attention to the importance of not endorsing viewpoints we don’t believe in, but at least being able to try to understand and interact with them. with people who have them differently than we do right now,” the more likely society hasn’t reached the point of no return, Fay insists.

Diane Benson Harrington is an education writer at SmartBrief. Contact her by e-mail, Twitter Where LinkedIn.

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